A Giant Step Heavenward
September 3rd, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
A GIANT STEP HEAVENWARD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-03-86 7:30 p.m.
I have a word to say about how it doesn’t pay to be civil, and courteous, and nice and charitable. Now Zechariah is next to the last book in the Old Testament. So we turn to Zechariah – Zechariah, next-to-the-last book in the Old Testament, chapter 4. Chapter 4: Zechariah, chapter 4.
Now, a little previous sermon on how it’s better not to be civil and courteous. What happened to me was there was a sweet couple who live in the city of Dallas, and I was trying to win them to our church – to get them to join our church. Made an engagement with them to eat lunch over there in that building right across the street. I reached my right hand in front of her in order to open the door for her – trying to be nice, trying to be courteous, trying to be gentlemanly – just so sweet, just so gracious. And when I reached my right hand to open the door, I lost my footing trying to reach around that sweet wife; lost my footing and fell – all of me – with my arm extended on the floor, nothing to break the fall. When they took me to Baylor, they took a picture of my shoulder, and that humerus bone there was pulled out of the socket. It was lying over there on the side. Never saw such a picture of me in my life. It was awful!
Well they have a genius of a man out there at Baylor, and he had me lie down and my right arm extended out; and he took a gentle pressure, and he pulled that thing back into the socket, for which I am humbly grateful, but it’s been hurting ever since. That’s the beatenest thing I ever saw in my life. That thing just keeps on hurting, keeps on hurting.
But I have another little testimony. Thank the Lord I go to the Y [YMCA] every day and exercise, and one of those exercises I do is pulling a weight back and forth like this. Had I not had an elastic shoulder there full of tendons and muscles that were exercised, I would have broken that bone in two. They would have had to cut my shoulder open, operated on me; I’d been in some kind of bandage for six solid months, and it’d have been 10,000 times worse than it is.
So, Lord, I thank You for the hurt that is here that it isn’t any worse than it is. No matter how things are, they can be worse. So we’re grateful that they’re not as bad as they could be. So no matter what condition you’re in, remember it could be worse; and so we thank God for His gracious kindness.
Now, you got Zechariah? We’re going to stand now – everybody standing with his Bible open – and we’re going to read verses 5 through 10. Zechariah, chapter 4, verses 5 through 10. Are you ready?
Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, "Knowest thou not what these be?" And I said, "No, my lord."
Then he answered and spake unto me saying: "This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel saying: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ saith the Lord of hosts.
‘Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain! And he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings crying, "Grace, grace unto it!"’"
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying:
"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it. And thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you.
For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven. They are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth."
Now, the first part of [verse] 10: "Who hath the despised the day of small things?" Now, may we be seated and listen to the Word of the Lord: "For who hath despised the day of small things?" And the title of the message is: A Giant Step Heavenward.
Do you remember when Neil Armstrong walked down the steps of the Columbia that was circling the moon; and for the first time, a human being put his foot down on that satellite that circles our planet earth? And when he came down the steps and to the last rung, before he put his foot on the moon, he said, "A small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity." Do you remember that? "A small step for a man" – just a few inches – but "a giant leap for humanity."
"Who hath despised the day of small things?" What can come from a small dedication to the Lord?
I think of the Old Testament – the story of Abraham leaving Ur of Chaldea and, finally, Haran, up there at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley, and moving to a strange country called Canaan [Genesis 11:27-12:5]. What a small thing that a man would move from here to there. Thousands and thousands do it every day and all over the earth, but what a destiny-determining decision in the plan and purpose of God. How small but how great [Genesis 12:3; Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-28; Galatians 3:7-9].
I think of the calling of Moses on the backside of the desert where he had labored for forty years in solitude [Acts 7:29-30], and now he is confronting a burning bush and out of it the voice of the Almighty God [Exodus 3:1-4:17]. What an incident on the backside of the horrid desert, but how much ensued from that confrontation with a burning bush.
I think of David. Joab, the captain of the hosts [2 Samuel 20:23], climbs up a well in the city of the Jebusites, and David moves his capital from Hebron to that city [1 Chronicles 11:1-9; 2 Samuel 5:1-12; 20:23]. They named it Jerusalem. What a small beginning: climbing up the well in an enemy city of the Jebusites, but Jerusalem will be the name of our heavenly home forever and ever [Revelation 21:2, 10-27]. What a small beginning. What a small step. What a giant leap.
I think of Ezra and Zerubbabel of whom we just read. After the Babylonian captivity of seventy years, they returned to Canaan with a little handful of struggling, poverty-stricken Jews. They numbered about 42,000 [Ezra 1:1-8:36]. Yet, out of that small beginning is the whole plan and purpose of God for us and forever.
When I turn to the New Testament, I read the same blessed story. What a small beginning, but what a giant destiny-determining decision. When the Lord, our Savior, went down to the Jordan River walking the thirty-some odd miles from Nazareth down to the Jordan where John was baptizing [Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22], what a small beginning but how meaningful for us and for all humanity.
I think, again, of Simon Peter to the Gentile home in Caesarea where Cornelius, a Roman soldier, is presiding over his Roman family [Acts 10:1-48]: the beginning of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. What a small beginning – in a household – but what tremendous universal, worldwide repercussions [Acts 11:1-18].
I think of Paul at Philippi when he crossed from Asia into Europe [Acts 16:6-40] – the beginning of the gospel in Europe. How small a beginning but how marvelously meaningful for the generations thereafter. We could continue on through the history of the Christian church.
Augustine in about 600 AD: a humble missionary to our forefathers in England and establishing the Christian message and church among our ancestors – our fathers’ fathers’ fathers. They were converted. They were brought to Christ by that humble missionary, Augustine, in about 600 AD. What a small beginning but what an everlasting, meaningful program in the Kingdom of God.
No end to what we could say. I could mention Roger Williams who, in 1630, left Boston and went to Providence, Rhode Island and established there the first Baptist church on the continent of America and from there the beginning of a true free church in a free state.
"Who hath despised the day of small things?" [Zechariah 4:10]
"A small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity." [Astronaut Neil Armstrong, 1969]
And I would include in that small beginning our First Baptist Church here in Dallas, and the reason that I bring the message tonight is because we stand at the beginning of our greatest and noblest year. This church is indelibly identified with a man named W. W. "Spurgeon" Harris. He was born in 1836 in Russell County, Kentucky. His father was Moses Harris who moved his little family – a wife and two children – to Missouri. Moses Harris, the father, died in Missouri leaving his widow and the two little boys destitute. An uncle moved the little family to Texas; and when that boy, seventeen years old, W. W. Harris, was saved and baptized he seemingly had a gift of language, of speech; and he was licensed to preach when he was seventeen.
When he was twenty-one years of age, a Baptist association here took up a collection for him and sent him to the fledgling university called Baylor on the Brazos at Independence. When he was 30 years of age, he preached the commencement sermon at Baylor in 1866 entitled: "The Knowledge of Jesus: The Most Excellent of All Sciences." And because of his eloquence, they nicknamed him "Spurgeon." He was the most successful young preacher in Texas. He baptized B. H. Carroll who founded our Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.
In 1868, in July, this young preacher came to a frontier village in northern Texas called Dallas, and he held a two-week revival meeting in this frontier village. They had one conversion and at the end of the meeting organized a Baptist church, the First Baptist Church of Dallas, with ten coming into the fellowship by letter. There were eleven, and he was the first pastor. He never resigned. Upon a day, he just left. Nobody knew where he went. He just left. That’s a good way for a preacher to do, I think. Instead of going through all of the motions and tearful partings, you know, just get up and leave. Don’t tell them anything. Just walk away.
He became an itinerate preacher of the gospel, and when he was forty-four years of age, in the fall of 1879, he, a lonely horseman, made his journey to South Texas to die in the only family that had ever ultimately befriended him – in the Joe Roberts home. He had no family. He had no means. He had no voice. He had no health, and he died at forty-four of tuberculosis.
He had in his life one of the saddest providences I have ever read about. He was in the Civil War – in the War Between the States – all four years from 1860 to 1864; and in those four bloody years, he constantly corresponded with a young lady school teacher whom he was to marry after the war was over. When the war was done, he came back to Texas to marry that young woman whom he so deeply loved. When he arrived, he learned that she had suddenly and impulsively married someone else. It was a crushing blow for his life. He never expressed interest in anyone else, in any other woman, and lived alone until his death at forty-four years of age in South Texas. He was buried at Fort San Felipe across the river from Del Rio. There was no marker. There’s no place known.
And when I came here to Dallas, I told Mr. Tapscott that I think that is one of the saddest things I have ever run into in my life; and I said to Mr. Tapscott, "I want you to go to South Texas, to Del Rio, and I want you to find that place; and with God’s help and grace, we’re going to build a marker and a monument to Spurgeon Harris, the first pastor of this church and the organizer of this congregation." After L. H. Tapscott tried for endless times of effort, he finally came back to me, and he said, "Pastor, there is no way we can identify the grave of Spurgeon Harris. It cannot be found." So he lies in an unmarked grave – the organizer and the pastor of this First Baptist Church in Dallas. I resolved to keep his memory alive here in this place by naming the building across the street the Spurgeon Harris Building, and I am so grateful that our congregation acquiesced in that appeal. And always I pray that there will be some devoted remembrance of that lonely pioneer preacher as long as this church shall last which, I pray, will be till Jesus comes again.
Now, to conclude: a small step, a day of small things, but a giant leap. I could pray – and these things are asked of me endlessly, and I do not know – I could pray that from heaven, he could sense the ultimate meaning of the ministry that God gave him in this frontier city of Dallas back yonder in 1868. Our church has become the model church for uncounted thousands of others in our Southern Baptist Zion; and I pray that we shall keep it that way – a glorious church.
When we come together, we praise God; and the Spirit of the Lord is here with us, and we feel His presence when we come into the door and when we’re seated in the pew. And God will increasingly bless us in the marvelous ministries that the Lord has given us in reaching people, in teaching them the Word of God, in guiding them in the image of Christ that we all might grow in grace together.
And I am humbly praying that this year, this present year, will be the finest, noblest, grandest year that we have ever known – that our marvelous days are before us, they are ahead of us, and we are entering them now. And I could pray that for somebody you here tonight – a small beginning just coming down the aisle, giving your heart to the Lord, or bringing your life and family into the circle of the church – just a small beginning but an infinite blessing as we worship together, as we love God together, as we pray for His coming together, as we look forward to living forever together.
Oh, what glorious, grand, great, good things God has in store for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. To love the world and the things of the world is to leave it all behind [Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25, 12:19-20; Philippians 3:7-9]. To love God and the things of God is to possess the things of the Lord forever [Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; 1 Corinthians 2:9]. And to give our hearts in the service and ministries of Christ is the sweetest privilege God could ever afford to someone made out of the dust of the ground like us – to be a fellow heir with Christ [Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29], to be numbered with the saints of glory [Ephesians 1:18, 2:19, 3:18; Colossians 1:12], to be exalted above the angels [1 Corinthians 6:3; Hebrews 2:5-8], and to live in the presence of the great Creator, Almighty God of heaven, forever and ever and ever [Revelation 21:1-22:21]. Oh, what a blessedness to give your heart, and your life, and your home, and your family, and every prayerful hope and dream of the tomorrow to give it to the Lord Jesus; and that is our prayer for you tonight.
In a moment, we’re going to stand and sing a hymn of invitation; and while we sing it, to accept the Lord as your Savior, come; to put your life in the fellowship of our wonderful church, welcome; to bring your family here and to rear your children in this dear place to teach the child the Word and the way and the will of God. Nothing could be dearer or sweeter in life than thus to respond to the appeal of the Spirit; and in His name, and for Jesus’ sake, we make that appeal to you tonight.
In this moment that we sing our hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, come. We’ll pray together. We’ll worship and love God together, and we’ll go to heaven together one of these days. As the Spirit of the Lord shall lead and open the way, come and welcome while we stand and while we sing.
A GIANT STEP HEAVENWARD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. In the Bible: seemingly so small, but so meaningful
A. Old Testament
1. Abraham leaving Ur
2. Moses and the burning bush
3. David moving capital to Jerusalem
4. Ezra, Zerubbabel and 42,000 Jews
B. New Testament
1. Jesus at the Jordan River
2. Simon Peter in the home of Cornelius
3. Paul crossing into Europe
C. Christian history
2. Roger Williams
II. Our First Baptist Church in Dallas
A. W. W. "Spurgeon" Harris
1. Saved, baptized, licensed to preach at 17
2. Held two-week revival in 1868, resulting in organization of church
3. Died at 44; buried in an unmarked grave
III. The small step and the giant leap
A. Our church